Therapy is often like peeling an onion. As we peel away each layer, we’re offered new insights and understanding. Often my clients seek help initially for anxiety and stress, but as therapy progresses, it becomes evident that they’re not just stressed about what’s going on in their lives today. What triggers their anxiety is a feeling that they’re not living their lives as fully or consciously as they’d like. They describe feeling as though they don’t feel connected to themselves or the people in their lives.
Feeling as if you don’t know yourself, or not being connected to your feelings, are usually the result of very early childhood experiences. From the moment we’re born, our relationship with our parents or caregivers affects our ability to feel at ease in the world as adults.
Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted gets reinforced as our parents respond to our cries and hold us when we’re distressed, feed us when we’re hungry and keep us warm and dry. When parents consistently provide us with unconditional love and caring, we learn as infants that our parents will always be there when we need comfort. We call this “secure attachment.”
Sometimes parents aren’t able to attend consistently to a child’s needs. This week on the Woman Worriers podcast, Marie Celeste shared her adoption story and her experience working with adoptive families and adoptees. She said that when children are adopted, they often feel an unconscious sense of loss and disconnection because they weren’t able to build that bond and connection with their birth mother.
Some other circumstances that can cause disruption in attachment are:
The parents must focus much of their attention on a sibling with physical or emotional disabilities.
The parent has mental health issues that limit their ability to be emotionally connected to the child.
The parent is overwhelmed by the child’s needs and isn’t able to respond with love and affection.
The parent wasn’t given what they needed growing up so they don’t have the internal resources to attach to the child.
One or both parents struggle with addiction.
Physical or sexual abuse by a parent or caregiver.
The list could go on, but the point is that even when a parent’s intentions are good—they want to have and build an emotionally secure environment for their child—they might be unable to provide it because they aren’t emotionally grounded themselves.
Why Secure Attachment Matters
Does attachment really matter? If the child was raised in a safe secure home and given food to eat, a home for shelter, clothes to wear and parents who loved them, isn’t that enough?
The answer is, it’s not just material needs that matter. If you didn’t feel loved, cared for, and accepted unconditionally, then that impacts how you feel about yourself. It’s more about what you didn’t receive.
When children don’t feel unconditionally loved and accepted—for whatever reason—they internalize the pain and blame themselves. When you’ve been raised in an environment where your emotional needs were neglected, ignored, criticized or shamed it can lead to feelings of disconnection, anxiety and depression in adulthood.
Here are some things I’ve heard clients say about the affect of being emotionally neglected and insecurely attached to parents or caregivers:
I am not enough.
I don’t know what I need most of the time.
I don’t know how to ask for what I need.
I want to have a close relationship but maybe I’m just not able to.
There’s something about me that’s different from other people.
I feel like no one knows the real me.
There is this feeling that I’ll never be able to feel at ease in deeper connection. It’s something about me.
When I see other people so at ease socially I wonder what is it about me that’s different.
I know that if they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.
Healing Attachment Wounds
So how do we move forward and find true connection, love and acceptance? To feel grounded, safe and secure in the world?
We need to build, nurture and grow feelings of connection within ourselves. We need to re-parent ourselves, to learn to love and accept ourselves with compassion and understanding. We need to heal the wounded parts of us that weren’t given what they needed when we were children.
Recognizing that our childhood emotional needs weren’t met can open the door for healing. As we learn to love ourselves unconditionally and embrace our imperfectness we can start the process of healing our disrupted attachment and begin to identify, understand and express our emotional needs.
When we can fully connect with our self with love and compassion, it makes genuine connection with others so much easier. It eases feelings of anxiety and depression to help you feel more grounded and present in the world.
If you yearn to feel more grounded, at ease and present in your life, come join our exploration of mindfulness. Mindfulness groups are forming now in Annapolis. If you’re interested you can find out more here.
Here are some additional resources on Childhood Emotional Neglect:
If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.
Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger, creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979